One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

More anti-Slumdog analysis

In a worthwhile (if annoyingly firewalled) New Yorker article from last week, the fantastically-named Katherine Boo provides a great intellectual twist on the underlying hollowness of “Slumdog Millionaire.”

slumdog-sceneSunil [the subject of Boo’s piece] knew nothing of the movie that ends with an airport-slum boy finding money, love, and fame. However, he might have recognized one of that movie’s conceits: that deprivation may give a child a certain intelligence. The other conceit–that a child’s specific miserable experiences might be the things to spring him from his deprivation–was the lie. It was the movie version of the electrified fence. [Wealthy Indian theater-goers] would linger at the premiere past 1 am, then head to the after party at the JW Marriott. They could relax, not just because the film about the slum boy had a happy ending but because the boy’s suffering had been part of the solution. [emphasis mine]

It’s not just that his convenient poverty (the “rags” only serve to line the road to “riches”) has been exoticized, fetishized, and popularized (and indeed, Boo’s dispatch from Mumbai reports a marked increase in “slum tourism”); it has been commodified. The main character’s very poverty serves as a guilt-reducing amnesiac, as viewers come away with what is really conservative propaganda: the pulling up by the bootstraps, the notion that anyone can make it with the right tools, the all-conquering fidelity.

I’ve ranted enough about this movie, but Boo’s point is important, and if you must watch this travesty, please at least keep it in mind.

(image from flickr user Lord_Henry under a Creative Commons license)


February 24, 2009 Posted by | Movies | , , , | Leave a comment

Slumdog must just be too realistic…yes, that’s it

So the vastly overrated Slumdog Millionaire is flopping inspiring riots following its release in India.  I can’t say I’m surprised — the contrived, and entirely predictable, happy ending that enables Westerners’ decadent, guilt-free slum-gazing in the rest of the film does not appear to convince Indian audiences so unconcernedly — but this explanation in Time seems entirely to miss the mark.

“We see all this every day,” says Shikha Goyal, a Mumbai-based PR executive who left halfway through the film. “You can’t live in Mumbai without seeing children begging at traffic lights and passing by slums on your way to work. But I don’t want to be reminded of that on a Saturday evening.”

slumdog-millionaireSlumdog‘s problem is not that it is too real.  It is that it presents an entirely sensationalized depiction of these real-life slum scenes, flitting over them with bright shots for just enough time to provoke a reaction, but without any of the attendant thematic concerns.  Rather than a presentation of Mumbai’s everyday “real life,” Slumdog gives a caricature.  From a very worthy Slate review:

It traffics in some of the oldest stereotypes of the exoticized Other: the streetwise urchin in the teeming Oriental city. (The success of Slumdog has apparently given a boost to the dubious pastime of slum tourism—or “poorism,” as it’s also known.) And not least for American audiences, it offers the age-old fantasy of class and economic mobility, at a safe remove that for now may be the best way to indulge in it.

And to indulge in it through the conceit of a gameshow once-popular in the United States — aww, look at those Indians, now they have their own “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, too, how cute! — is to situate this “slum tourism” within a prism in which Americans can feel comfortable, and even, despite the plot’s painful predictability, experience some sort of dramatic tension.  The film, in other words, seems to offer the best of all possible worlds: abhorrent poverty, but a certain redemption; darkness and despair, but bright colors and a fast pace; the ostensible pursuit of love, but the undeniable allure of sex.  It is in the gaps between these crude tugs on the viewers’ sensibilities that the movie founders, and where this gaudily assembled pastiche ultimately comes completely undone.

(image from flickr user movies&movies2 under a Creative Commons license)

January 27, 2009 Posted by | India/Pakistan, Movies | , , | 4 Comments

People who can count backwards are way smarter


Boing Boing highlights a list of the 500 worst-ever passwords.  Topping the list, which reads creepily like a semantically awkward porno, is, unsurprisingly, Dark Helmet’s favorite, 123456.  Somewhat amazingly, its opposite, 987654, is only the 410th stupidest password.  I guess that’s why Dark Helmet is the bumbling bad guy.

(h/t Professor Blattman)

(image from flickr user John(ny) D under a Creative Commons license)

January 6, 2009 Posted by | Humor, Movies | , , | Leave a comment

How to do a real (fake) interview

Hadley Freeman makes the case for standardizing the practice of faking interviews with celebrities (as apparently happened when a Cosmopolitan journalist interviewed Scarlett Johansson herself):

scarlettFor all their narcissism, celebrities, by and large, hate doing interviews and journalists, for all their hack-like nature, hate doing them too. The former are expected to discuss issues that they might not even mention to their shrink, let alone a total stranger, while the latter has to sit there with a straight face while the celebrity says things like, “Working on this $100m movie/record/TV series really helped me grow as a person, y’know?” Celebrities go through this farrago to keep up their “exposure”. Meanwhile, magazines believe that a month without Anne Hathaway on the cover is a month half-lived.

So fake interviews look like a smashing solution: the celebrity gets the coverage, the magazine gets the story and embarrassment is spared all round. Just jigsaw together phrases like “it’s my family and friends that keep me grounded”, and “I feel very lucky”, the likes of which are all in the Cosmo piece, and you’re good to go. Seeing as the photo on the cover has been unrecognisably airbrushed, why not apply the same fakery to the interview?

Well, isn’t that why they invented E!?  All the benefits of the interview, without the actual interview.

(image from flickr user MK Media Productions under a Creative Commons license)

December 19, 2008 Posted by | media, Movies | , , | Leave a comment

Existentialism through parted ass cheeks

James Parker’s Atlantic piece gives a great synthesis of what I had previously assumed to be simply Jim Carrey’s ambition — the move from ridiculous (physical) comedies like Ace Ventura to the aspiring award-winner, seeking to convince the world that he can do more than ventriloquize out of his ass cheeks.  But really, while there are multiple Carreys, there’s essentially only one Carrey — and his various metamorphoses actually just refract the world’s view of humanity (that, at least, seems to be Parker’s ambitious argument).

Then there’s earnest Carrey, low-voltage Carrey, Carrey the Oscar chaser, dutifully dialing it down for The Majestic and muting himself in The Truman Show. This Carrey excites a peculiar anxiety: you sit there with your scalp prickling, waiting for him to go off. Which he never does. But Carrey can only play it straight when the rest of the world is crooked—laughing at him, deceiving him, or (as in The Majestic) falsely accusing him. More than all the leaping about, it’s this strange, unnerving subversion or emptying-out of regular-guyness that makes Carrey the representative jester of our time.

Ventrioloquizing his ass cheeks turns out to be quintessential — and existential — Carrey; at least, I think that’s the implication when a movie review ends by suggesting that Carrey portray the pathos of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot “out of his ass.”

December 10, 2008 Posted by | Movies | , | Leave a comment

The connection between James Bond and dead monkeys?

James Bond's next villain

James Bond's next villain

This guy asked, not me.

The most surprising thing about the newest James Bond film “Quantum of Solace” is the premise: not a villain or a syndicate, but the loss of an environmental service in a poor, developing country. The loss of freshwater resources in Bolivia causes local hardship and destabilizes a sovereign government, setting the stage for 106 minutes of unadulterated action.

Ohhhhh.  Environment.  Right.  And here I was thinking that it was that calling the movie “James Bond and the Tale of the Dead Monkeys” is about a good a title — and way more straightforward than “Quantum of Solace.”

(image from flick user dah under a Creative Commons license)

December 8, 2008 Posted by | Environment, Movies | , | Leave a comment

1,669,084 songs stuck in your head

That is the number of copies that the DVD for Mamma Mia: The Movie sold on its first day.  The Guardian’s film critic, Peter Bradshaw, is none too pleased.

mammamiaAll I can say is: grrrrrrrrrrrr. I am more determined than ever to lead the extremist Male Grump Backlash against Mamma Mia!. As everyone explodes joyfully and life-affirmingly out of the cinema, dancing and singing and hugging, I am the bloke grimacing and growling in the foyer and clutching my box-set of The Wire: Complete First Season…

I love Abba as much as anyone else, but Mamma Mia: The Movie is a thin, pallid, pathetic, gutless, infantilised film – far, far, far inferior to High School Musical 3, which now looks like Citizen Kane in comparison.

For someone who admits to loving Abba, High School Musical 3, and Sex in the City: The Movie, Bradshaw’s credentials are solid.  I don’t particularly love Abba, am skeptical about the latter two, and only saw the Broadway version of Mamma Mia.  It was entertaining enough, except for the annoying tendency of Abba songs to get stuck in your head forever.

Seriously, though, even if one does not except Bradshaw’s withering criticism (“the characters…are unreal, castrated, hysterectomised robots” in “this headache-inducing film”), it seems a bit hard to make the claim that this Abba-tacular is a critically acclaimed film.  It seems pretty much critically derided — but that shouldn’t stop folks from enjoying it, buying a million copies, and getting Abba songs stuck in their head for weeks on end.

(image from flickr user Rafa from Brazil under a Creative Commons license)

November 28, 2008 Posted by | Movies | , | Leave a comment

James Bond XXII

Not long after I heard that Suantum of Quolace Quantum of Solace is the 22nd Bond movie, I frealized the benefits of not making the long duration of the franchise explicit in each movie title.  There’s a reason sequels (and triquels?) don’t generally fare as successfully as the original; but by the time you’ve arrived at 22, it’s pretty clear that you’ve left the land of trilogies far behind.  And while one of the appeals of the Bond flicks is their constants (witty puns, fancy gadgets, etc.), the titles (even the stupid ones) just wouldn’t look as appealing with a bunch of Roman numerals next to them.

November 27, 2008 Posted by | Movies | | Leave a comment

Suantum of Quolace

Having not yet seen the movie, I’d held out hope that the title of the new Bond flick, “Quantum of Solace,” was actually just too smart for me to understand.  But then…probably not.

(h/t Jesse)

November 16, 2008 Posted by | Movies | | 4 Comments